2012 Conference

Reach Out and Touch Someone: Marshall McLuhan and the Tactile Web

Reach Out and Touch Someone: Marshall McLuhan and the Tactile Web
Aaron Rester, Senior Manager of Electronic Communications, University of Chicago Law School

Aaron Rester’s session was not a “golden nugget” you could take home and work with right away (by his own admission). His talk was a more theoretical look at the … the future.

The “tactile Web” means thinking of the Web as something we touch, not just as a text or audiovisual medium. Gestures, swipes, and taps are replacing point and click. HTML and CSS are going to have to grapple with this new gestural language. Forget a:hover or onClick; what about onPinch or onSwipe?

Aaron showed videos from Leap that can make your monitor act like a Microsoft Kinect. And with haptic feedback, not only can you touch the Web, the Web can touch you back. Videos from Tactus, and Senseg showed dynamic touchscreens with tactile buttons that appear when needed. So cool! Right now, these technologies are being applied to specific apps. But imagine if it were standardized and rolled out to the Web?

Turning to McLuhan, Aaron runs through Marshall McLuhan’s characterization of the media – in five minutes. “the medium is the message,” “hot media vs. cold media,” – it’s all in there. A great primer on a subject that can be very dense. For McLuhan, watching TV was a tactile experience involving your entire body. And the Web may be the same. You do not simply “watch” the Web. You surf it, you navigate it. And the small screens of our mobile devices echo the smaller TV screens McLuhan was talking about in the 1960s, when we had to physically sit close to the TV; you wouldn’t just turn it on and leave it on in the background.

Websites will soon be engaging at least three of our users senses. What does this mean? Aaron suggests that as Web developers, we need to step back from our day-to-day minutia of our jobs and think about the “bigger ideas. “

Photo by Marcus Kwan, available under a Creative Commons license

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